Start your walk around town at Piazza Grande, the main square. On the north side, the arcades are filled with shops. You can find antiques, art, Swiss and Italian handicrafts, and high fashion from Milan.
From piazza Grande, follow the curvy via Francesco Rusca to the Old Town. Along the way, you can visit the Castello Visconteo, Piazza Castello 2 (tel. 091/756-31-80). This structure is all that survives from a late-medieval castle in which the dukes of Milan lived. It was severely damaged in 1518. Today, the castle contains the Museum Civico, which displays many Roman artifacts excavated in the area. It's open April to October, Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is 7F.
The most important sight in Locarno is the Santuario della Madonna del Sasso (tel. 091/743-62-65), on a wooded crag above the resort in the hamlet of Orselina. Hearty visitors and devout pilgrims can climb to the church, at an elevation of 350m (1,148 ft.). However, we recommend the funicular, which leaves every 15 minutes from 7am to 11pm. The round-trip fare is 7F for adults, 3.50F for children. The church was founded in 1480 after a friar, Bartolomeo da Ivrea, reportedly saw a vision of the Virgin. It was reconstructed in 1616. The basilica contains much artwork, including Bramantino's Flight into Egypt (1520). In a museum next door to the basilica hang masterpieces by such artists as Raphael. Another masterpiece, painted in 1870, is Christ Carried to the Sepulcher, by Antonio Ciseri. This procession scene is most often described as "Caravaggiesque." The stunning panoramic view can be taken in from the loggia, opening onto the rooftops of Locarno with Lake Maggiore in the distance. The grounds are open March to October daily 7am to 6:45pm. Today, the general public is not admitted at will, but arrangements can be made with the friars by calling in advance and booking a reservation to visit.
One of our favorite pastimes is to go biking along the way. At the train station (Piazza Stazione; tel. 091/743-65-64), you can rent bikes for 28F per day. Bikes can be rented daily 8am to 7pm.
Fleeing the city (not that you would want to), you can take a postal bus (no. 630) to the village of Sonogno in just 1 hour. At the end of the ride, you'll be in the midst of towering peaks in one of the Ticino's most scenic valleys, Val Verzasca. After getting off the bus, take the first left and let the yellow signs direct you to Lavertezzo, across shaded glens and riverbeds through perfect and bucolic valley scenery. Allow about 3 1/2 hours to go from Sonogno to Lavertezzo. Should you tire at any time, you can take one of the postal buses that run through the valley.
The Gambarogno Riviera
The Gambarogno Riviera, with its characteristic Ticinese villages, spreads along Lake Maggiore's left shore for about 11km (6 1/2 miles) to the Italian border. It begins at Contone, at the foot of the Monte Ceneri, and includes part of the Piano di Magadino (plain of Magadino) as well as a wildlife refuge, Bolle di Magadino, in a delta formed by the Ticino River.
The lush vegetation, the green chestnut forests, and the iridescent colors of the lake -- ranging from azure to emerald green -- give uniqueness to this well-preserved region. Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, the annual temperatures average 59°F (15°C). In summer, the weather is ideal for all aquatic sports. The Riviera isn't just a lakeshore, but also a steep mountain sloping up from the lake. On one side it's crowned by Monte Tamaro, at 1,950m (6,396 ft.) above sea level, and on the other by Monte Gambarogno, at 1,710m (5,609 ft.). It's this latter mountain that gives its name to the region. There's a panorama of the Alps from Monte Rosa on the west to the chain of Ticinese Alps on the north.
The region is riddled with some 201km (125 miles) of footpaths. The Locarno Tourist Bureau distributes a map indicating every trail; this map also outlines various itineraries with the time that it takes to cover them.
One path indicated on the map provides access to the whole area, from the mouth of the Ticino River to the village of Magadino, from which the biological cycles of local species can be observed. More than 300 different kinds of birds alone live and nest in this tangle of vegetation. Ente Turistico del Gambarogno, via Cantonale, CH-6574 Vira (tel. 091/795-18-66), arranges guided tours of the area in a rowboat, but only on Thursdays.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.